[This was written on October 1st to be posted today, October 19th. I was in the height of my infirmity, but God gave me the strength to write what was so heavy on my heart.]
The second the calendar clicked to the time of this writing, October 1st, my mind immediately flashed to thoughts of my dad. This was his birthday month, and today, October 19th is his birthday. He was born in the town of Locri, in Reggio de Calabria in Italy.
For some reason, I miss him more this year than any other…and it’s been 16 years since he passed. I’ve been very ill for a week now and the recovery process is arduously slow, which doesn’t work well with my temperament. But I knew I had to make the effort and write this blog when I did, to post today, October 19th.
It’s early afternoon and I needed to go back to bed. My fever was rising again and I’m feeling really ill. So I did just that…went to bed…and had an unusual dream.
When I sleep, I don’t dream. I know, everyone dreams. But I rarely remember mine, so when I do, I know it’s for an important reason, and usually supernatural. But today was different. I fell asleep and found myself writing about my dad…a blog…within a dream…that gave tribute and honor to a man, that has now become my hero. I woke up with tears in my eyes. I was incredibly impacted. I got out of bed and stumbled to the sofa and asked Dennis if he could get me my laptop. He was confused, but didn’t ask anything. Even through my infirmity, he saw something in my eyes. So he handed it to me and I began to write what God so eloquently spoke to me through this dream.
I never thought of my dad as a hero, and if I’m being honest, in my younger years especially, I would think the opposite. While most of my friends had fathers who were professionals, or owned a successful business in town, my dad was an immigrant and the epitome of the blue-collar worker.
That said, he was a self-made man. He met my mom, they got married, and he made a good life for her and our family. Did he have faults? I would be a liar if I said differently. But now looking back, I realize that what he went through, it would be a bonafide miracle for any of us to endure such abandonment and devastation at such a young age, and still build an honest, and forthright life for ourselves and our family.
He told me this story many times, but during my dream, it impacted me like no other time in my life.
My dad was 13 years old and the eldest of 11 children. His father made the journey from Italy, across the Atlantic, to Ellis Island and took my dad with him.
I never met my grandfather, but after hearing this story, several times, from my parents, I knew he was vicious and not meeting him was probably a gift. But being who I am, I would always question my dad about things surrounding his early life. So one day, as a young girl, I noticed something was wrong with one of my dad’s ears. One ear had the curl over on the top like a normal ear, but the other ear was flat, and went straight up life an elf.
“What’s wrong with your ear, daddy?” I asked. He looked at me for a long while. I could tell he wasn’t sure if he should say anything or not, but considering even at the tender age of 8 or 9, my favorite word was ‘why’ he probably thought to himself, if I don’t answer now, I will be followed all day and asked over and over again until I give her a straight answer. Also, my dad was a man of truth and he wouldn’t lie to me about it anyway. Sometimes I wish I never asked.
As gently as he could, for a girl my age, he said that his dad was very strict and he would pull my father around everywhere by the top of his ear. I was startled. To become completely flat like that, it must have been most of the time. He nodded his head. Tears welled up in his eyes. I left the room. Seeing my dad still in pain over that event was more than I could handle.
Soon he came into my bedroom and leaned over and kissed my forehead. He was a tough man, but he allowed me to see that soft side of him that not many ever witnessed.
There he was, still a child, after leaving his mother and siblings, his school and friends… leaving basically his entire life in Italy. He entered a whole new world. And with the one person who treated him severely and the one who terrified him.
After checking through Ellis Island, his father got train tickets for them and off they went to Ohio where my grandfather had ‘business associates.’ It wasn’t long after arriving in that state, that my dad realized that his father already had a restaurant business waiting for him. And they knew a Polish family in Ohio that rented a room to them including meals. Unfortunately, they only spoke Polish and some English, so my father had to learn how to survive. It wasn’t long before he was picking up Polish and English.
The restaurant was successful and my dad became the messenger, errand boy, short order cook…anything that was needed. The days were long and the work was hard, but he was vital to the restaurant, or so he thought.
Months had passed. Now deliveries were happening several times a day. He would ride his bike to wherever was needed, with the package in his large basket on the back. He used to tell me he really loved that because he had a sense of freedom. Although he did miss going to school. He loved knowledge and even though he couldn’t read or write English well, every single day when he came home from work, I would watch him at the kitchen table, reading our local newspaper from cover to cover. His pointer finger would follow every word to keep him focused on what he was reading not to miss a single word.
One morning my dad was called into the restaurant office by my grandfather. He told him that he had a special project for him and it was extremely important. Then he handed my dad a gun. He showed him how to use it and gave him an address and a name. He told him to kill this man that owed him money. My father refused. My grandfather got extremely angry and told him that if he didn’t do this for him, it wouldn’t be good for him in the future. My father ran out of the restaurant. My grandfather yelled at my father in the street and said, “If you ever come back to Italy, I will kill you on the spot!”
Several days later, without any notice or warning, his father was no longer sleeping in their room. He questioned the woman they were renting from, and she told my dad, that his father had gone back to Italy. This woman had taken a real liking to my dad, so she allowed him to stay there as long as he would help with the chores and cooking. There was one other requirement, he had to go to school.
This was all wonderful, but all his family and friends were in Italy. How would he ever get back? And could he ever go back after what his father said? He was a young boy in a strange land living with people he’d only known a short while. He was devastated.
The first day of school started, and my dad didn’t realize it, but because he didn’t have any records and no school history as well as not knowing how to read and write English, he had to start in the first grade. My dad told me how embarrassing it was for him to be nearly 14 at this time and had to be in a class with 5 and 6 year olds. But he was a determined man and very intelligent. So that first year in school, he skipped 5 grades.
When he turned 16, he quit school. He was offered a job to learn a trade from an upholsterer in Massachusetts. He took it and he began his new life.
If I was to continue in this manner of telling this story, I would end up writing a book. So let’s fast forward decades.
I grew up in a small farm town in Massachusetts. When I got to high school I ran for office and became part of the student government. But, “why” was still on my tongue especially after an incident that I’ll never forget.
Because we had to wear skirts or dresses to school, it was uncomfortable to learn and take tests in. One day I literally saw one of my teachers bend his head to the side to look up my dress.
It wasn’t a week later; I organized a school “protest” to allow girls to wear slacks to school. When every student entered the school building, they would go to the lobby and sit down and not move all day…not go to classes…nothing. They would eat their lunch sitting there. We did this for 3 days. I was called into the office. They knew it was me. Duh. Not only were they going to suspend me from school, but I they saw that I was wearing “culottes” which was also against the rules. But after what that dirtbag teacher did, I was not about to wear anything that he could have a free show.
The Principal and Vice-Principal, both, drove me home to change. When I walked in the door, at noon, my dad was still home. He hadn’t left for his second job yet. He asked me why I was home. I quickly explained the situation. I saw him move by me like FLASH, and go to the car to “discuss” this with the Principal and VP.
In thick broken English, he told them that he works two jobs and has an upholstery business on the side to pay for my clothes. If THEY want to pay for my clothes, then they can tell me what to wear. But if that’s not the case, then my daughter is getting back in the car and going back to school. He continued… I pay YOUR salaries with my taxes. How dare you bring my daughter home and tell her to change? Who do you think you are?
Their eyes bulged. Their mouths dropped open in shock.
He turned to me and said, “Delora, get back in the car!”
And I was brought back to school. Just. Like. That.
My dad never graduated high school. He worked two jobs and ran his side upholstery business his entire life. He was a blue-collar tradesman. He never got any accolades. The most he’d ever won was a turkey shoot the week of Thanksgiving or a fishing contest…since no one in the entire state could catch anywhere near what he could. Yes. He taught me to fish and I love it until this day.
Now, when anyone asks me what my dad did, I tell them, proudly, that he was the Salt of the Earth and one of the people who helped make this country great. I put his character, wisdom, and love and pride for his family, his God, and his country against their degrees any day!
My dad. A self-made man. An inventor. A town Constable for 26 years. A blue-collar, American citizen… yes, he studied and became a US citizen. He spoke 3 languages fluently. He knew many parts of the Constitution by heart. And although not a man without flaws, he was perfectly imperfect.
He never did go back to Italy to see his mom again. Sadly, his mother passed before his father. When he got the letter from Italy that his mother had died, I was the only one home. It was devastating to see my father weeping because he never saw his mother on this earth again.
I have but one regret. I didn’t spend more time with him. I would have so many questions for him now. I would want to know his wisdom and understanding of so many things. I took him for granted. If you have your parents on this side of heaven still, don’t let a day go by without hugging them and thanking them.
Happy Birthday Daddy. You are and always will be… My Hero.